Some are convinced that the Fourth Kingdom still exists today through the Roman Catholic Church or will soon come into being through a revived Roman Empire. They are persuaded by the language of Daniel 7 in which three of the ten horns on the head of the Roman beast are uprooted by the ever-growing eleventh “Little Horn” which then becomes very “stout.”
First, John Calvin does make an application of Daniel to his time in which the Church was persecuted. I would make this application also. There is no doubt that Daniel can be applied to present day occurrences. But the main purpose of the prophecy was to point the Jews to the time of the Messiah.
Second, this interpretation of the “Little Horn” is interesting because many interpret the Little Horn as the “eleventh” horn. Of course, the number eleven is mentioned nowhere in the text. The Little Horn does not come “after” the ten horns in one of the parallel verses in Daniel 7:8. It comes up “among them.” This is better translated as “in the midst of them.”
I considered the horns, and, behold, there came up among them another little horn, before whom there were three of the first horns plucked up by the roots: and, behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things (Daniel 7:8).
This speaks of Nero Caesar. He is the little horn “among them.” Nero was the sixth of the ten emperors. Thus he is “another little horn” – one of many.
Note that the passage says, “Three of the first horns plucked up by the roots.” Nero was born on December 15th, AD 37. Three emperors ruled in his lifetime, Tiberius, Caligula and Claudius. Roman historians tell us that each one was assassinated to make way for Nero, who was not in the line of succession. Although some have doubted the Tiberius assassination story recorded by Tacitus and Suetonius as a mere rumor, Nero was born in the year of Tiberius’ death and survived the emperors Caligula and Claudius. He lived in an era when political assassinations of those in the Julio-Claudian line had become the norm.
Some have argued here that this does not negate that “Little Horn’s” further growth into the Roman papal Antichrist as stated by Calvin in his discussion of Daniel 7:25 in his Institutes of the Christian Religion and also in his Commentaries on 2 Thessalonians 2 and 1 John 2 and 4.
In his Commentary on Daniel, Calvin claims that the “Little Horn” is the whole line of Roman kings from Julius Caesar. But he strongly sweeps away any speculation that the Little Horn could apply to the papacy (Roman Catholicism) or the Turks (Islam). These interpretations are “both wrong,” says Calvin.
Wherefore it is our duty not to read carelessly what is here written, but to weigh seriously and with the greatest diligence what the Spirit intends by this vision. “I was attentive, therefore,” says he, “to the horns, and behold one small one arose among them” [Daniel 7:8]. Here interpreters begin to vary; some twist this to mean the Pope, and others the Turk; but neither opinion seems to me probable; they are both wrong [emphasis mine], since they think the whole course of Christ’s kingdom is here described, while God wished only to declare to his Prophet what should happen up to the first advent of Christ. This, then, is the error of all those who wish to embrace under this vision the perpetual state of the Church up to the end of the world. But the Holy Spirit’s intention was completely different. We explained at the beginning why this vision appeared to the Prophet because the minds of the pious would constantly fail them in the dreadful convulsions which were at hand, when they saw the supreme dominion pass over to the Persians. And then the Macedonians broke in upon them, and acquired authority throughout; the whole of the East, and afterwards those robbers who made war under Alexander suddenly became kings, partly by cruelty and partly by fraud and perfidy, which created more strife than outward hostility. And when the faithful saw all those monarchies perish, and the Roman Empire spring up like a new prodigy, they would lose their courage in such confused and turbulent changes. Thus this vision was presented to the Prophet, that all the children of God might understand what severe trials awaited them before the advent of Christ. Daniel, then, does not proceed beyond the promised redemption, and does not embrace, as I have said, the whole kingdom, of Christ, but is content to bring the faithful to that exhibition of grace which they hoped and longed for (John Calvin, Commentary on Daniel 7:8).
Calvin goes on to explain that the “Little Horn” can be thought of as the whole line of Roman emperors.
I have no doubt that the little horn relates to Julius Caesar and the other Caesars who succeeded him, namely, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, and others.
Daniel 7 is important because the language here closely parallels Revelation 13 and 17. If we are to “count the number of the beast” (Revelation 13:18), then we need to know who is the Little Horn. Daniel 7 must be consistent with a preterist interpretation of Revelation 13 and 17.
The “Little Horn” of Daniel 7:25 refers specifically to Nero. The historicist applies this symbol to either the papacy or the entire Roman Empire and later pagan institutions that arose from the influence of Greece and Rome. That application can be easily made. However, extending the interpretation of the “Little Horn” beyond AD 70 is irrelevant to the context and purpose of Daniel.
Although there are not many full commentaries on Daniel from a preterist perspective, I have come across several that bear out this interpretation. I operate from the assumption that in most cases, if a doctrine is new, it probably isn’t true. The doctrine or interpretation that the Little Horn of Daniel 7 was Nero or the line of the Caesars is not new. This was the view held by preterists in past centuries (cf. John Calvin, Commentary on Daniel; Nathaniel Colver, The Prophecy of Daniel Literally Fulfilled, 1843; W.S. Auchincloss, The Only Key to Daniel’s Prophecies, 1903).
For a more detailed analysis, see: Daniel 7:24 — Is the Little Horn “after them” or “among them”?